Christopher Herbert and Victoria Kataoka Headshot

Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

Posted: Updated:

This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:

Push for Peace in Israel
SI Analysis: The Obama administration is making a concerted effort to restart peace talks in Israel. Special Envoy George Mitchell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and regional national security advisor Jim Jones all made trips to Israel this week to discuss security concerns, terms for negotiation and a further push to instigate a settlement freeze. Israeli settlers in the West Bank opened a number of outposts in defiance as the US representatives arrived. There is not much cause for hope that the Israeli government will yield to US pressure, in main part because it can't: its fragile hold on power is contingent on a coalition with the far right that has made its political ilk based on settlement expansion. However, a deadline for progress regarding negotiations over Iran's nuclear program will be set at the next G8 meeting in the fall. And Israel will be under pressure as well to be seen as getting its own house in order, while the international community does its bidding against Iran.

Iran Posturing and Preening
SI Analysis: Ahmadinejad came under criticism from his conservative political base this week when he attempted to appoint his son's father-in-law as his vice president. He yielded but fired his intelligence chief as a response. In addition, Iranian security forces rapidly squelched a crowd's attempt to commemorate the deaths of protesters. While facing internal pressures, Iran made some grand gestures in the Gulf of Aden - sending out its maritime fleet for all to see. This is certainly in response to Israeli naval posturing last week. Iran upped the ante on Israel by announcing a new naval base in the Gulf of Oman at the strategic chokepoint of the Straight of Hormuz. Moreover, it's back to business as usual in Iran. Though the Western press likes to see signs of a turn in the tide at every new twist in Iranian politics, Ahmadinejad's and Khamenei's government is doing just fine. As the world refocuses on the Iranian nuclear program, full equilibrium will likely be restored in favor of the current regime.

Nigeria on Fire
SI Analysis: Violence continued this week in Nigeria with fighting between the national police forces and the Islamist group Boko Haram. After the leader of the insurgent group was killed, the police claimed victory. Nonetheless, violence, protests and attacks against police are spreading across the country and analysts say that this instability does not bode well for the region or for the Nigerian energy market. Western investors and African partners have expressed reticence to continue their activities in Nigeria until the unrest comes under control.

Anatomy of ETA
SI Analysis: Why did the basque separatist group ETA choose to strike out violently this week when it has eschewed violence in recent years? A show of weakness? A show of resurgent strength after key arrests and crackdowns last year? Many point to the fact that the bombings in Burgos and Majorca mark the 50th anniversary of the rebel organization. As its activities have been limited in recent years with several hundred members in prisons for terror-related crimes, the ETA is certainly in a critical phase and its survival remains suspect. Nonetheless the bombings are a sharp reminder to Spain that ETA still exists and that it can still drive its message home in Madrid.

Under the Radar or Hodge-Podge:

Indian Submarine
SI Analysis: India's new nuclear submarine this week raised the ire of Pakistan, China and an entire group of signatories of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), of which India is not a member. Pakistan in particular called India's submarine a "threat to peace". India should tread softly before it sets off an arms war that it will not be able to keep up with. After all, one nuclear submarine will not guarantee security for New Delhi.

Progress in Honduras
SI Analysis: It looks as though ousted President Manuel Zelaya may return to head Honduras soon as the Honduran Army said it would not oppose his reentry to the country. Meanwhile, the US has continued to step up its opposition to the coup regime while political will within Honduras has seemed to falter. Zelaya is camped out just across the border in Nicaragua where he is leading an opposition militia, the People's Army of Pacific Resistance.

FARC and Venezuela
SI Analysis: Though most people have suspected for a long time that Venezuela supports and arms the Colombian rebel group FARC, the Swedish government made a formal inquiry into how rocket launchers sold to Venezuela showed up in a discovered FARC weapons' cache. Expect an increase in tension between Colombia and Venezuela on this issue. Already Venezuela has accused Colombia of risking regional peace after Bogota accused Caracas of supplying weapons to FARC. Venezuela is also concerned over Colombia's close relationship to the US and is willingness to let the US establish military bases on its territory.

War Reports:
SI Analysis on Iraq: The victory of the Gorran party in Kurdistan's elections may herald a new era of Kurdish politics that eschews corruption and fosters actual state-building. Kurdistan's leaders will have to be careful as to not antagonize the central Iraqi government and its Arab countrymen. As Britain withdraws the last of its troops, the US will be the only foreign force remaining in Iraq, though there is evidence that Defense Secretary Gates is considering an accelerated withdrawal from Iraq. Though reports confirm the inadequacies of Iraqi ground and air strength, the zeitgeist seems to suggest that American presence in the country will do nothing to improve these problems.
SI Analysis on Pakistan and Afghanistan: US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke expresses concern that the Pakistani Army's Swat offensive may only provide temporary gains in security and the marginalization of the Taliban. As the Helmand offensive in Afghanistan continues, Britain suggests that coalition forces should consider negotiation with the moderate Taliban but US forces reject the notion that such a Taliban exists. Much is expected from the August 20 elections in Afghanistan, as a referendum on the recent sea-change in NATO strategy against the Taliban in the country and a new political will to actually rebuild Afghanistan.